The Peacock Room Comes to America

Gallery 12

Before the Peacock Room became a work of art by James McNeill Whistler, it was the dining room in the London mansion of Frederick Leyland. Its shelves were designed to showcase the British shipping magnate’s collection of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Whistler completely redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as a “harmony in blue and gold.” Leyland was far from pleased with the transformation and the artist’s fee. He quarrelled with Whistler, but he kept the room intact.

Charles Lang Freer purchased the room in 1904. He had it taken apart, shipped across the Atlantic, and reassembled in his home in Detroit, Michigan. There, he gradually filled its shelves with ceramics collected from Syria, Iran, Japan, China, and Korea. For Freer, the Peacock Room embodied his belief that “all works of art go together, whatever their period.”

Whistler’s extravagant interior has been on permanent display since the Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923. Located between galleries of Chinese and American art, the Peacock Room remains a place where Asia meets America.


Did you know? One afternoon per month, we open the shutters of the Peacock Room so you can see it in a whole new light. When the shutters of Whistler’s “harmony in blue and gold” are open, a flood of natural light turns the Peacock Room into a glowing jewel of blue, green, and gold tones. Details, colors, and textures are revealed in the sunlight—and a special filtering film on the windows minimizes fading.

The Peacock Room shutters are open on the third Thursday of each month from noon to 5:30 pm. No reservations or advanced ticketing necessary.